INDIANAPOLIS - Officials at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway are gearing up for what they hope will be the last lowly-attended NASCAR weekend at the track. Sunday will mark the 24th running of the Brickyard 400.
The NASCAR Monster Energy Cup Series' Brantley Gilbert Big Machine Brickyard 400 is the final scheduled July event for the sport at IMS.
Track president Doug Boles said last year's was the lowest attended ever and this year's race isn't expected to be much different.
“We’re going to be up a thousand or so or down a thousand or so, but basically in the same window as last year," he said.
Beginning in 2018, the 400 will take place the weekend after Labor Day, and while it will have the NFL season to compete with during that time, Boles said moving the race to that weekend is better for the track and the fans.
“We want to find a way to solve the brickyard attendance issue and we’ve been working with NASCAR and one of those ways is moving the date," said the IMS president.
Boles added the race is still profitable for the track, despite the recent decline in attendance. It's also one of the biggest events for Indianapolis tourism each summer.
“Any time we can have our famed oval activated for an event, it is healthy for Indy tourism," said Visit Indy senior vice president of marketing and communications Chris Gahl. “We know it’ll be a seven to eight figure economic impact for this weekend, so millions of dollars are being generated and left here locally.”
It's not just IMS that has taken a hit in ticket sales. It's an issue the sport is trying to address at many tracks, including some of the other more popular ones. Television ratings have also been down, but Boles said the numbers are still consistently first or second each weekend when comparing nationally televised live sporting events.
Popular drivers have also called it quits, which could hurt the sport's appeal. Indiana natives Jeff Gordon and Tony Stewart raced their final 400 last year, and Gordon's run last July only took place because he was filling in for an injured Dale Earnhardt. Jr., who has announced 2017 will be his last year behind the wheel, from a competitive stand point.
That means the sport will have to improve its product on the track.
It's already made a push in what NASCAR leaders hope will make the sport more appealing. This year, Cup races are split into stages, to create more dramatic moments to the finish line.
“It is three different stages, as part of the race, the final stage obviously, determines the winner," said Boles. "They’ve been doing that all year.”
Stages will end in Sunday's race after laps 50, 100 and the final lap, which is 160.
Another new feature at the track will be in the XFINITY Series race, where drivers will have restrictor plates in their cars at IMS for the first time. The plate reduces air flow and its power. The move could be made to the Cup series as early as next year if Saturday's XFINITY race shows signs of better competition. Right now, NASCAR requires restrictor plates in the Cup series at Daytona and Talladega races.
“For us, we have to find out how to deliver the on-track product here at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in a way that makes people want to come watch it here, instead of watching it from home," said Boles.
Off the track, there are several events to also attract fans for the final July race who otherwise might not make the trip the track's second-most attended race.
A two-night concert will take place Friday and Saturday, headlines by The Chainsmokers and Major Lazer.
“That’s why we’ve added music this year," Boles said. "The Hauler Parade is completely different this year. We have nine Cup drivers coming into the market on Friday to promote so a lot of things we’re trying to do to move it.”